There is a fascinating story in the second book of Samuel, further amplified in the book of Chronicles where King David finally starts his reign over all Israel, a coronation seven years in the making. His coronation procession is deliberately subversive. Rather than being at the back of the procession clad in all his regalia with trumpeters and heralds going before, you find him at the front. In processional terms this is usually the least senior place. Not only that, but he is effectively in his underwear, or priestly underwear at that. His dancing and foolishness elicit a withering disdain from Michal, one of Saul’s daughters. She thinks his behaviour is degrading and foolish.
The procession is revealed not to be about him but about the old ark of the covenant being placed centrally inI the life of Israel. A tent is set up right in the heart of Jerusalem where worship and prayer is to be offered to God continually in the very centre of Israelite power. There is much symbolism here. David’s reign over the united tribal kingdom will be for 33 years. For the first and only time in Israel’s history access to God is to be for everyone, not just the priestly caste. If I remember rightly there was someone else who lived for 33 years who opened the way of access to God some time later!
Vast amounts of money are spent on the worship team. Chronicles talks of 270 worship leaders who are to lead worship and prayer night and day. Thus, David’s entire reign is undergirded by a 24/7 prayer meeting. One can only imagine David’s first cabinet meeting after the ministerial re-shuffle being asked why the coffers are bare. Why is there no money for the military and public building works? Well, its all been spent on a prayer tent! I’m sure that people will have gone up to this tabernacle to pray and had just as confusing answers to their prayers as we do. Seemingly trivial needs are granted quickly, desperate needs are met with lengthy silence and some quite legitimate prayers seem not to be answered at all. Prayer for them, as for us, is not formulaic. But one can’t deny that this thirty-three year period was the high point of Israelite history. Their genocidal enemies were defeated, and they enjoyed a time of unparalleled peace and prosperity, never to be repeated.
David’s chosen subversion of Kingly behaviour was a deliberate contrast to his predecessor’s grandiosity. The fact he was wearing priestly underwear in the procession was a statement of his authority being derived from God not his own merits. But the placing of the prayer tent in the very centre of the political life of the community was perhaps the most important thing. By all estimates, in human terms, they had no conceivable right or possibility of independent national existence, such was the power of those who opposed them. This was a declaration of absolute dependence on God and submission to God. At the start of his reign he was saying, “this is how we are going to do things around here.”
This is a good pattern for any Christian community to emulate. In our own little way, our year of prayer in 2023 is our metaphorical placing of this tent at the heart of our community. We too are utterly dependent on God; we seek to be completely obedient to Jesus Christ. We do not place our trust in formulas but in the God who inspires us, and gave himself for us in Christ. In our year of prayer do join in.